Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ops Session 12-29-2016

Like all of you I'm sure, it's been a busy holiday season. But fortunately, I was able to squeeze in one last operating session for 2016 - just about accomplishing my goal of one-session-per-month since finishing the Big Expansion last March.

As it was, the session almost didn't happen. After having a very dry/snow free season so far, Mother Nature decided to wreak a little havoc on Thursday. That 86'd JimD's and MikeR's (actually two MikeRs!) chances of coming down. Even Randy couldn't make it. With all the cancellations, I was especially glad I'd expanded the invite list and Kaylee was able to join at the last minute, ensuring that we'd be able to run all the trains - albeit with some one man/woman crews.

In the end, we had BillS running PDX-1 and all most of the Shoreline trains, and TomD worked with first-timer operator (on the Valley Line anyway) JamesM on the Valley Local. Unfortunately, I had to throw other first-timers KayleeZ and BobM out on their own on PDX-2 and the Airline Local, respectively. Fortunately, they didn't seem to mind (though Kaylee had her hands full in Essex!). I was on the desk working the tower (with some help throwing switches) and doing Agents' work.

Actually, that last bit proved to be especially stressful. Just a few hours before the session, I'd just finished soldering the last of the feeders some new tracks in staging (more on that in a future post). Consequently, and without Randy to help me, I didn't get all the paperwork done ahead of time as I usually do. So I spent a lot of the session trying, frantically, to get the switchlists written up and completed for each town before the local arrived.

But all in all, it was a great session. I'm glad I designed the layout to be "scalable" - which is to say, I can operate it with just one or up to twelve operators. So being a few folks down is no problem - even the prototype annuls trains from time to time. But given the experience of those who were able to show up, we got to run all the trains after all.

We even got to run a LOT of Shoreline trains(!), due to Tom's generous donation of additional DL-109s and Bill's generous donation of time getting said DL-109s up and running in time. Saybrook was really humming as a result, and the basement stairs provided some perfect impromptu stadium seating to watch the trains go by.

Of course, as with all operating sessions, I have a punch list of items to try and get through for next time:
  • Make new uncoupling tools (they're finally wearing out, but a good "problem" to have)
  • Rolling stock issues
    • M-I 2142 gondola "A" end coupler
    • PRR Pullman coupler spring
    • Dragging air hoses
    • Should probably go through ALL the cars and standardize on KD #58s and confirm all cars have metal wheels, even the borrowed ones
  • Engine issues
    • Bachmann USRA R-1 Mountain #3304 is doing its "sound but no movement" trick again - hitting the steam dome starts it on its way again, but that's hardly a solution. We ended up substituting a DEY-5 (Atlas S-2)
    • BLI I-5 Hudson #1407 needs its volume reduced. A lot.
  • Track issues
    • Lift out between Somerset and Mill Hollow needs clamps to retain proper alignment
    • Need to check hidden track between Middletown and Mill Hollow on the Airline (had a hopper derail there - of course it's the least accessible track on the railroad)
    • Check switch control on Meech & Stoddard siding (points not throwing over all the way to the siding)
And before the next session:
  • Figure out how to configure the fast clock on my NCE system
  • Cycle all switch machines (a couple stuck the first time being used)
  • And most importantly, get all the paperwork done ahead of time!
Thankfully though, nothing too major. And I have some fun research projects I'd like to get done by next time too:
  • Which passenger trains made stops in Saybrook? (needed now that we're actually able to operate these trains)
  • Which crossings were protected and which were "stop & protect?"
  • What engines were used on what Shoreline trains? (thankfully, I have this report which tells me all I need to know, for April 20, 1948 anyway...)
Speaking of Saybrook stops/ops - now that the mainline trains are becoming more operable, and thus more prominent, I need to beef up my staging and the "script" for when all those trains are supposed to run and in what order (and, most importantly, where they should be staged and where they go when done). So, if there's a major construction project between now and the next session, it'll be to finish and enhance the large east end staging yard (the west end staging yard can't be expanded):
  • Bumping posts at end of each track (my engines have pretty high momentum and a few have Keep Alive circuits. 'nuff said)
  • Diagram all staging tracks, including - most importantly - car capacity
  • Add the Shoreline locals to the staging/mainline ops script
But all that's in the future. For now, how about some photos from the session? Thank to friend BobG - who took all these photos - I have a record of what turned out to be a great session, despite the weather . . .

Kaylee operating PDX-2, the New London to Cedar Hill local, via Old Saybrook and East Haddam. Bill figuring out how to run 33 trains on just 10 feet of mainline with only 4 staging tracks at each end.

Rare shot of yours truly, here at the Towerman/Agent's desk filling out (yet more) switchlists, based on the work generated by the spreadsheet.

First-timer BobM works the Airline local all by his lonesome. He looks in pretty deep though(t) - probably wondering why the runaround is just a little too short...

Tom and James in the Middletown/Dividend area, contemplating their next move(s)

As I mentioned, the Shoreline got a pretty full workout during this session. Here are a couple of westbound passenger jobs, coming "under" the hopefully-soon-to-be-completed Rt 1 overpass.

And an eastbound, rolling past Saybrook station

Agent's desk with the control board indicating All Clear - fast clock at the top

Every time the bell rings, an angel gets its wings the Agent/Operator gets annoyed (but he gets over it pretty quickly). Rare self-portrait of our intrepid photographer
I hope you enjoyed - even if only vicariously - this little ops session. And, given it's the last day of 2016, I want to thank you for following my efforts here and especially for all the comments & helpful feedback. My primary reason for starting this blog was to document my Valley Line project, but an unexpected and pleasant surprise has been all the many new friends I've made over the last 3 years since my first post. Your participation and involvement has made this effort all the more rewarding and I can't wait to see how this project will evolve in the coming months. 

So Thank You! And here's wishing you and yours a Wonderful, Happy, and Healthy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Diorama Done! - Merry Christmas!!

I "broke ground" on this project back on November 15th. Now, after a month-and-almost-10-days, it's finally All Done!

After completing the backdrop, legs, lights and trees, stringing the lights, placing the structures and adding the people went pretty fast. The funnest part of all was creating all the little mini-scenes with the people doing their thing on Christmas Eve - shopping, going to church, making a snowman, buying a Christmas tree, having a snowball fight, and - of course - visiting Santa.

The final step was moving the diorama to its place in the corner of the upstairs hallway, near the entrance to the Photo Library/RR room. Since part of this project was to experiment with new construction materials, I'd built this diorama on 2" foam for lightness. Yeah right. With the masonite base and backdrop, 1x3 benchwork, and all that "snow goop" it's still pretty darn heavy and required the Missus' help to get it up the stairs. But once it was placed on the sawhorses legs, it looked as wonderful as I'd hoped it would and fit the space perfectly.

So, as my little Christmas present to all of you that have been following along, I'm posting a little "photo tour" of "Bedford Falls, CT" - it's Christmas Eve and the late afternoon local passenger train is just crossing the Pocatapaug Creek and going past the ice skaters and Mrs. Rech's house where the Christmas tree farm is. Everybody's in a festive mood, trying to get their shopping and Santa visits done before heading to evening service at the church . . .

Overview of the diorama in position, taken from the same perspective of all the progress pics for comparison. Left to right: Rix overpass, skating pond w/ice skaters, trestle, Christmas tree farm, town park w/Santa, RR station. Town and church in the background.


Late afternoon passenger train crossing Pocatapaug Creek on its way to its final stop at Bedford Falls, CT

Mrs. Rech's Christmas tree farm

Snowman building and playing with the dog

Town park with a snowball fight and family waiting for their turn to visit Santa

Shoppers along Main Street - could it be that the man is trying to explain to his wife his huge purchase at the hobby shop?

Folks heading to church early to get a good seat
The local mailman, his work all done for the holidays, hangs out waiting for the afternoon train.
Visiting Santa at the gazebo in the park

As dusk begins to fall over Bedford Falls . . .

Mr. Rech is selling the last of this year's Christmas trees . . .

. . . . which becomes even more magical after the sun goes down...

Meanwhle, the ice skaters are trying to stay upright

As we leave Bedford Falls, for now, I know I speak for all the townspeople when I wish to you and your family the most joyful holiday imaginable, good health, and great memories with your family.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Diorama: Backdrop, Legs, Lights, Trees

In the homestretch on the Christmas Layout Project - which is good, since Christmas is just around the corner...

Photo Backdrop

Now that I have track in and the structure locations finalized, it's time to do the photo backdrop. I'd considered just leaving the sky blue painted masonite alone since that's basically what I'd had on the earlier version of the layout. But this project is as much about practicing my skills - and developing new ones if possible - as it is about getting it done, so I figured I'd try a photo backdrop. I've done one of these before (on the "Airline" modules), but I've never attempted one this large.

I chose some winter images that were on a CD that PeteL gave me and just printed them out on regular paper. Then it was just a matter of trimming the white border off the sides (a heavy duty paper guillotine is most handy for this step) and using an XActo to remove the sky. See photo above.

Using glue stick, I applied the sheets of paper one sheet at a time, being careful to match the edges - like tiny pieces of wallpaper. While butting the edges up against each other looked great at first, I fear that even the slightest bit of shrinkage will result in unsightly gaps. The solution is would have been to either overlap the images slightly (which would have required coloring of the edge of the paper on top) or painting the masonite at where the joints would fall in a color that would be at least close to the photo color (too much planning ahead). Of course, I might have been able to stitch the images together and print it out in one looooong sheet/roll, but that would have been pretty unwieldy, and not inexpensive.

Another thing to note is that if you need to fill in any gaps between the layout and the photo backdrop - especially if you're using any sort of "goop" that's wet - the photos are going to wick up some moisture. See photo above. It didn't look this bad after everything dried and it's only noticeable if you're looking for it.

This overview shows - at least to my eye - that a photo backdrop is certainly worth the extra effort. Even though I didn't make much effort to match the foreground 3D scenery ("snow goop") to the backdrop color, it still looks great.

Lazy Legs

I designed this layout/diorama to be easily stored during the "off season" so I didn't want to install permanent legs as I would have on an actual layout. The gold standard would have been to install some sort of folding legs (like you see on a banquet table). Actually, I would have used a banquet table and just set the diorama on top of it - but even a short table would have been too long for the space I had - and not as high as I wanted things to be for viewing.

So, I wanted folding legs, but didn't want to go to the time/expense of finding/installing them. And even if I did, I didn't want to be limited to the typical height they would give me. Then I remembered seeing "homemade" sawhorses and realized I could make up a couple of those pretty easily - and have them be whatever height I wanted.

To make them, you need sawhorse brackets (2 pair) and enough 2x4 material for the height you want. I wanted 4' legs, so in my case I needed 5 2x4s - four of them cut in half for the 8 legs (2 sawhorses at 4 legs each), and one cut up for the cross pieces. Beware - I assumed that "standard" 2x4 studs were 2x4x8 foot long. For some reason, the ones I got were less than 8' - and created some problem later (I had to fill in with some other stock I had on-hand).

I cut them up to the lengths that I needed then painted all sides with white ceiling paint I had on-hand.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a great shot of the finished product, but the pic above gives you an idea of what I did.


One of the most time-consuming (and a bit challenging) parts of this project is the lighting. But you can't NOT have lighting on a Christmas display! So, of course the buildings would have to be lit, I'd have a Christmas tree - lit up of course - and wanted lights around a skating pond and Christmas tree store. All that takes some extra effort, but I found a good tip that makes installing them a bit easier.

For each of the lighting locations, I'd need to run wires down through the snow goop, 2" of foam, and masonite. The easy part was drilling the hole (provided you have a long enough drill bit) - threading the wire was a bit more difficult (try pushing a wire through a 1/8" hole for 3 inches...)

The solution was to use a length of coat hanger and tape the end of the wire to it, and then push down through the hole.

I ran all the wires to underneath the layout and connected them through an old Atlas connector to the "accessory" (AC) terminals an old Life-Like power pack. From there, the process isn't complicated - all the repetition just takes a while.

In the  pic above you see the structure lights for the town buildings, church, and station as well as the three street lights. Next step . . .


As part of the lighting installation, I also put up "poles" (made from stained wood RR ties) to support the lights around the skating pond and Christmas tree salesman.

You can juuuuust make out the poles if you click on the image to enlarge
And while I was making holes for poles, I figured it'd be a good time to start installing trees. In most places, I was able to just use an awl but there were a few places - especially where the snow goop was really thick - where it was just easier to drill a hole. This process is slow but sure - make a hole, add a little hot glue to the bottom/stem of the tree, insert tree in hole. The longest part of this process is deciding where to put the trees and what sizes to use. Variety is key - and odd-numbered groups look best.

With the backdrop, legs, lights and trees (almost) done, I can just about see the end of this project coming into view in the near distance... All I have to do now is finish "planting" trees, string the lights around the pond and Christmas tree shop, and set the structures in place. Then it's the fun of adding the cars and all the people, creating the little mini-scenes that will really bring things to life!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Diorama: Structure Placement, Track Installation/Covering

Now that the trestle is done, it's finally time to install some track. Since I'm only dealing with a single track, the most complicated part of this process was marking where to cut the 3' flex to accommodate the bridge track section. What made it complicated at all is that the track is on a looooong curve and I wanted to be sure not to introduce any kinks. So after cutting/splicing flex and bridge track, I soldered the joints so that everything would flow smoothly, with no kinks.

After that, it was just a matter of spreading Aleen's tacky glue on the cork roadbed (having rasped it to make sure that everything was smooth and there was no "snow" that would affect the track), and then weighing it down with water bottles.

While I waited for the track to set, I decided to place the structures. The challenge here would be to have the structures look "set in place" in the snow, but still be removable. The solution was Saran Wrap.

I spread a thick coating of "snow goop" following the footprint of the structure, then covered the goop with plastic wrap. Then I pressed the structure into the plastic-covered-goop.

Once you pull up the plastic (carefully), you have a nice outline of where the structures go and - bonus! - when you place them, they look like they're sunk right into the snow.

Once I was sure the track wasn't going to go anywhere, I removed the bottles/weights and spread more "snow goop" over the track itself. I was careful to use my fingers to get the goop down to tie-level and made sure the flangeways were clear (just in case I ever want to run anything on this track). And - even more important - I wiped off the railheads before anything dried. This stuff is almost like concrete when it cures.

So that's where we are at this point. With the track and bridges - and even a couple of buildings - in place, it's really starting to look like something!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Visiting an Old Friend

The Missus and I were able to make it out to Cape Cod over the weekend and had a great time (despite the harrowing drive through a snow storm to get there). We always enjoy the Cape, and it's especially beautiful at Christmas.

Along the path to the town gazebo, Chatham

Lighthouse Beach, Chatham

Chatham Lighthouse
While we were out there, I'd planned on visiting the Nauset Model Railroad Club. They were having an open house and there's just something perfect about model trains during the holidays. But what drew me there particularly this time was that John Pryke's Union Freight RR had made its move there and the club had incorporated it into their layout.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Union Freight, the prototype ran along the Boston waterfront and master modeler John Pryke made it the subject of one of his layouts - and it became famous through the pages of Model Railroader and, later, a book on building city scenery.

Unfortunately, John passed away 3 years ago this month (please click here). I'd heard that his Union Freight layout would be relocated and preserved, and I'm thrilled it made its way to the Nauset club. There it holds a place of honor just as you walk in and can be seen and enjoyed by many more folks for many years to come. It's a fitting tribute to the memory of a great man and a talented model railroader.